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The Song of Miriam

20 Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”


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20. And Miriam the prophetess. Moses here introduces in his song the ἀντιστροφὴ, such as were constantly used by the lyric poets. For God would have not only men to be the proclaimers of this great miracle, but associated the women with them. When, therefore, the men had finished their song, the women followed in order. Although it is not certain whether the first verse was intercalary, (as the sacred history testifies the following sentence to have been in a solemn hymn: — “For his mercy endureth for ever,” 1 Chronicles 16:34, which is also intercalated in Psalm 136), or whether the women repeated alternately what the men had sung. It little matters which opinion you prefer, except that the former is more probable. But although Moses honors his sister by the title of “prophetess,” he does not say that she assumed to herself the office of public teaching, but only that she was the leader and directress of the others in praising God. The beating of timbrels may indeed appear absurd to some, but the custom of the nation excuses it, which David witnesses to have existed also in his time, where he enumerates, together with the singers, “the damsels playing with timbrels,” (Psalm 68:25,) evidently in accordance with common and received custom. Yet must it be observed, at the same time, that musical instruments were among the legal ceremonies which Christ at His coming abolished; and therefore we, under the Gospel, must maintain a greater simplicity.169169     C.’s opinion on this subject will be found at greater length in his Commetary on the Psalms, (Calvin Society’s Translation,) vol. 1:539; 3:98, 312, 495; 4:72, 73; 5:312, 320. Perhaps the following note on Psalm 81:2, may most conveniently embody his sentiments: — “With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and shall find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been His will to train His people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now, when the clear light of the Gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the Prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. From this it is apparent that the Papists have shown themselves to be very apes in transferring it to themselves.” — Vol 3, p. 312. Elsewhere he says, “Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints only in a known tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:16.) The voice of man, although not understood by the generality, assuredly excels all inanimate instruments of music; and yet we see what St. Paul determines concerning speaking in an unknown tongue.” — Commentary on Psalm 33:2, vol. 1:539.




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